greybeta: (FFIV Piano Bard)
A friend of mine once asked me why I made music. I really didn’t have an answer then, but a recent conversation with [ profile] purplkat made me re-examine why I make music.

In a previous post, I addressed why I loved the piano. But the reason why you love something and the reason you love to make something can be two very different things.

So now I must address why I play the piano. Um, why do I play the piano…why do I make music?

It’s not because I’m good at it. Well, “good” for me is being able to play off both sheet music and chords only, being able to both play formal pieces and improv.

I can’t do that because all I’m really good at is memorizing finger positions and chords and playing it from rote memory. I could train a monkey to do that.

So it must be a reason other than excellence that I play the piano. Let me suggest that I play the piano because it functions as a mirror for me, a mad method to reflect on my emotional state.

To digress a bit, allow me to say that there’s no doubt in my mind that the good Lord gave me one of the finest eidetic memories in the world. But the good Lord must have a good sense of humor because he forgot to give me some sense and sensibility.

Well, I possess a vast storehouse of knowledge yet I am often unaware of how people feel around you. I come across as an arrogant prick even if I am actually a fairly humble person.

For some reason or the other, I remember from a very young age that I should learn to guard my true thoughts. I became so adept at hiding my thoughts that I was eventually was able to hide my feelings—even from myself.

My thoughts and feelings are more connected than I would like to admit. If I cannot access my sincere thoughts at any given time, then I would have quite a bit of trouble assessing my genuine emotional state.

Invariably, I need a way to measure what I am thinking and feeling. For that, I have taught myself to become attentive to the manner in which I play the piano.

When I am happy, the music flows naturally from my brain to my fingers to the keys on the piano. When I am not, the music is disrupted in a variety of ways.

Confidence closes my eyes and allows me to measure what I am thinking and feeling. Suddenly, I lose myself in the music as I forget about all the emotional barriers that I have erected against the world.

Gladness noticeably speeds up my playing. I get excited when I am happy, and the piano reflects my more active mind state.

Nervousness causes me to stumble on songs that I am normally able to play from memory. I smile to cover my embarrassment but the notes betray the train wreck inside of me.

Sadness significantly slows down the pace at which I play. I guess subconsciously I am trying to give myself more time to meditate on what troubles me.

On the other hand, it might just be because I like to impress people by showing off how much music I can play without the sheet music in front of me. More likely, I am simply so narcissistic that I love hearing myself play the piano.
greybeta: (Nadesico - Akito the Cook)
So I went to the RUF art/coffee house thing last night. Mostly enjoyable I must say.

I was a bit late due to making a taco dinner for three of my good friends. Monsieur Maine, Blue Hen, and Night Fox all enjoyed good tacos, even if the tomato I selected was a "bit too green."

The acts were amazing! The Italian Stallion appropriately played an Italian waltz on the accordian, which he's been only playing for three months. Nice appearance, too. The Polymer Potter played a song from the Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece anime, Castle in the Sky, on the piano AND sung the lyrics in Japanese. Very beautiful. (Hehehe, she's so humble that she asked everyone how she did. She nailed it, what else could we say?) A group called Orpheus Wire (or Lyre...I can't remember) played a nice string quartet of songs. After resolving some technical difficulties, a group performed a HILARIOUS dance interpretation of Bonnie Tyler's "Eclipse of the Heart."

Mixed in were poetry readings, several acts from the master of ceremonies, and a rather awesome rendition of the Hall of Fame "Who's on First?" Abbott and Costello joke.

I was supposed to be towards the end, and suddenly I begin to feel this great trepidation. Normally, I don't feel this kind of worry but I usually play the piano for myself, not for a group of over forty people (even if I know more than half the crowd). Besides, there was the minor detail of me forgetting my sheet music.

Well, actually, I remembered in the BSU. I had been busy doing work for my campus newspaper that I didn't have time to pick it up until shortly before the event. But when I went to pick my sheet music, I found the BSU building locked and dark. Oh, the intern must not be in for the night.


I had promised to play a song though, so I went ahead and signed up. And then the M.C. announced that I would be the final act for the evening.

Oh crap, people are going to remember this one because I was the last one. You save the best for last, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong.

I smiled, explained that "Where Do I Begin" is the theme song to Love Story, an old 1970 movie that won an Academy Award for best musical score. I then proceeded to try to play the song from memory.

They probably thought I was lying as I got through the first fourth of the song decently well, but then I started jumbling it after that. I stopped and restarted, but I still couldn't do it. I was getting really really really nervous at this point.

What do you do when everyone else has nailed their acts and you've just screwed up yours...twice?

Smile, and try to play a different song. So I tried playing the Star Wars theme...but by this time my nerves were shot and I couldn't focus enough to remember the song. I was flustered with embarassment. Everyone started cheering though, so I smiled and decided to play the song I knew I couldn't screw up.

I went with "Battle Hymn of the Republic", a song that I played for a recital when I was ten years old and kept playing every since. I may have played it twice as fast as it should have been played, but at least I played the right notes. After I was done, I shook my head and scurried off the stage as fast as I could.

Afterwards, people were polite. They said I did a good job, even though I managed to bungle not one, not two, but rhree songs. A lot of people asked me how I recollected myself.

Just how did I recollect myself?

I am going to say that it was by the grace of God, because I wanted to run off the stage after my first two screwups.

Note to self: Don't leave home without your sheet music.
greybeta: (Souchiro Arima)
If you get to know me, you’ll learn that I love classical music. Unlike the rap that rots people’s minds, classical music inspires the mind. And if you get to know me well enough you will know that I am fond of piano music most of all. My favorite remixes of songs are piano renditions. This is why I want piano collections of Final Fantasy music. This is why I like Ben Folds. This is why I told my scheming roommate that one of the big pluses that would attract me to a female would be her ability to play the piano well.

So, what inspired me to learn the piano? I’d love to say it was out of self-volition, but in my case my parents bribed me to play the piano. Only now do I thank my parents for deceiving me. You see, my parents wanted to raise well rounded children. One part of being well rounded is being able to understand music. One can listen to music without understanding it. To understand music, though, you must study it. Just like my sister before me, I would study under the tutelage of a lady named Mary Moore.

Mrs. Moore was a fairly good piano teacher. She knew what she was doing, and she ably taught me the theory accompanying the songs. I found music theory to be fascinating. First, you had to learn some lingo. Okay, you play the treble clef with your right hand, and the bass clef with your left. There were acronyms to learn the notes. Middle C is the first note everyone learns, as it is the reference point for the rest of the eighty-eight black and white keys. Then you use mnemonics to remember the notes. For the treble clef, Every Good Boy Does Fine (EGBDF) represents the lines. FACE were the spaces. For the bass clef, Grizzly Bears Don’t Fly Airplanes (GBDFA) represents the lines. All Cows Eat Grass (ACEG) were the spaces.

Then you built up the basics. You learned about timing (4/4 was the first one I learned), and rest notes. You learned what a major scale was, as C major is the first scale you play. Sharps and flats were then introduced, with mnemonics to remember the order of sharps (#) and flats(b). Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Bread (FCGDAEB) represented the sharps. You went two back to find the sharps. For example, G Major would have one sharp, F sharp (the next scale you learn). D major would have two sharps, C and F. A major would then have three sharps, G and C and F. Blah blah blah, etc. Flats were done in reverse, with BEAD Guitar Classics Forever (BEADGCF) representing the order of flats.

You went on to learn minor scales, natural scales, harmonic scales, and melodic scales. You learned the meaning behind pp and ff. You picked some Italian to learn the difference between adagio and andante. Crescendo and decrescendo became part of your vocabulary. Accent marks stressed certain notes. Dotted notes meant something different, and triplets introduced new wrinkles. Pretty soon you were rolling along with ritardando, fermata (the bird’s eye), squiggly lines, pedal markings, and natural signs. Composition involved resolving dissonances. Augmentation was put into a musical light. DC al Fine and Coda repeated stuff for you. The double bar represented the end of a song.

I’ve heard that there are two sides to playing the piano. The first is the technical side: You have to play the right notes at the right tempo. I am a technically excellent piano player thanks to my powerful eidetic memory. The second side is the expressive side: Every song has a certain emotion that you must tease out by channeling your own feelings. By habit, I do not let others easily know what I am truly thinking or feeling at any given time, so I struggle on the expressive side.

I never practiced enough because I never cared to practice enough. I hated doing those infernal scale routines (mostly because I thought too much about playing the right notes instead of allowing it to become second nature). Given a choice, I probably would have never taken piano lessons, but I was never given a choice (thank you, Mom and Dad). Unfortunately, my mom killed any intrinsic motivation whatsoever by promising to take me to the arcade after my piano lesson. She would threaten not to take me if I did not practice enough. So I fervently played the piano to ensure a trip to the arcade (incidentally, this is why I am r0x0r at claw machines, as I spent way too much money on claw machines growing up).

As I grew older, I realized that I didn’t truly enjoy playing the piano. So, what exactly inspired me to keep playing? My one sibling, my elder sister. She played beautifully. To this day the "Love Story Theme" remains one of my favorite songs of all time because my sister always played it when I was younger. I’d remember in high school I would be doing my homework and I would take a break just to hear her play that song. I remember wanting to play it as well as she did (sadly, I recently looked for the sheet music to it but I couldn’t find it). Some day, sis, some day.

Yet my sister also enjoyed hearing me play the piano. That was because I often memorized the songs I liked so I could play several songs in succession without having to pull out the sheet music. I love to impress people, and it’s always much more impressive to play songs without the sheet music in front of you. Plus I knew I was a technically excellent pianist. But any musician with a perceptive ear for music could hear the hollow expressiveness of my notes.

When I went to high school, I stopped taking piano lessons. It saved me time and a little money, although I wouldn’t be able to go to play at the arcade as much as I liked. Soon, too soon, my piano skills deteriorated to only two songs: A simple version of Scarborough Fair and The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Those were the two songs I played at my first and only recital. I have practiced them so much I can still play them with my eyes closed.

Just three days ago, I read a variety article in my local newspaper about how playing the piano helps reduce stress and improve your memory. The very act of playing the keys gives us physical release, and the mental aspect of making your own music bestows a sense of pride. Memorizing new songs gives us a feeling of accomplishment as well as drilling our mind for other tasks. I knew it is true, for in my recent depression I have often turned to the piano to comfort me. After I play a few songs, I feel much more relaxed. I have also started to memorize new songs to ramp my mind back up to full speed while I am away from school. And for the first time in my life, I am astonished to hear my true voice. The notes disclose my positive yet pessimistic voice.

The piano has also brought me two new freshman friends this year. Good friends, I am happy to say. The first one I call the Italian Stallion, for he always manages to attract a stampede of girls to follow him around. The first week of school this semester, I was at my usual habit of banging keys on the BSU’s piano. A random freshman engineering physics major walked up and was pleasantly surprised that somebody else was actually playing the piano, with no sheet music in front of him at that. He was about to turn around to leave, but I stopped him and told him that I wanted to hear him play a song. He politely said that he didn’t want to interrupt me. I told him that I love to hear someone else play the piano more than I love to play it myself (what I didn’t tell him was that I was already done playing the only two songs that I knew at the time).

Now, you see, Italian Stallions tend to attract girls for two reasons. Reason number one: They are dashingly handsome guys. Reason number two: They must have some sort of mad skillz in order to attract that stampede of girls. This Italian Stallion is quite the talented pianist. The notes revealed a confident soul, expressed in his sure strokes as he navigated his way through complicated songs. I knew at that moment that I should to get to know this guy better. So I did what all good BSU upperclassmen do for freshmen. I invited him to my church.

The other friend that the piano has brought to me is the Polymer Potter, a true wizard with polymer clay. I actually met her during the summer, as she enrolled in a chemistry undergraduate research program as a prefreshman. Such prefreshmen are known as “Purser Projects”, so named after a certain Dr. Purser in the chemistry department. Dr. Purser is excellent at identifying genius talent and preparing them to win nationally competitive scholarships like the Goldwater Scholarship for Tulsa. Gordon’s a pretty funny guy, as I got to know him better as he was an advisor for the senior honors society that I am involved in.

Polymer Potter made an instant impression on me in a different way than the Italian Stallion did. During the summer, the BSU held worships on Tuesday night for the whole metro area. Normal prefreshmen in this situation would linger in the back, trying to soak things in and simply observe how things worked. But not her, no sir-ee. She walked in and saw the piano and immediately asked if she could play in the worship band. How audacious do you have to be to be willing to say you’re good enough to play the piano for the worship band the very first time you are visiting a college ministry group? Trust me, you have to have a portrait of yourself by “audacity” in the dictionary to do so. She has visited my church one Sunday, though she missed the first time around as she conveniently claimed that she slept through her alarm (if you know me, you’ll know why this is ironic).

At the present time, I measure my mind state by playing my favorite Christmas song “Carol of the Bells.” It is a song that requires a surprising amount of finesse. It includes volume changes as well as legato-staccato shifts. Right now my mind is racing too fast and I’m playing the soft notes too loudly and too quickly. At first I couldn’t even notice my mistakes. But my sister helped me listen for my discrepancies, so now I am on my way to handling my hyperattentive boredom (thank you Lexapro). It will take time. At the very least, the piano forces me to concentrate on something else while concurrently soothing my soul.

So yeah, if I see you, could you play a song on the piano for me?

I would love to hear it.

July 2009

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